Every Christian reading this blog post is somewhat familiar with various missions within their local church body or even within their respective denominations. In fact, many have personally embarked on a mission trip at some point in their Christian lives. These efforts are embodiments of Christ’s commission prior to His ascension…putting faith into action if you will. However, many Christians are unaware of the current phenomenon of mission movements from the non-Western world, including myself prior to this study. While they are similar to Western missionary movements in some ways, they hold unique advantages and difficulties.
One of the non-Western missionary movements I found to be very interesting was that of certain people movements, which discusses “how clans, tribes, castes—in short, how peoples—become Christian.” Concerning people movements, Donald A. McGavran addresses the process of Christianization from both a Western and non-Western point-of-view. To a Western missionary, this process is extremely individualistic due mainly to the geo-political conditions in the West. On the other hand, a non-Western missionary views people through a lens more suited to addressing groups of people in various subgroups, much like their home environment.
One advantage of all missionary movements from the non-Western world, especially people movements, is their foundation in a non-Western worldview. To be more specific, these movements are not ‘diluted’ by Western individualism and more fully understand the particular culture around them. However, at some point, the individual must make a decision for Christ and non-Western missionaries are at a disadvantage. According to McGavran, “the Christianization of people is not assisted by slighting or forgetting real personal conversion; there is no substitute for justification by faith in Jesus Christ or for the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The study of this phenomenon enabled me to visualize global missions through a non-Western lens, and prompted me to compare Christianization to the more familiar term of Americanization. While Christianization means “to take over or adapt in the name of Christianity, or to convert to Christianity,” Americanization simply means “to bring under American influence or control.” While these two terms seem similar, they have a slight difference that mirrors the individualistic nature of Western culture. While Christianization is focused on people as a whole for the most part, Americanization almost always focuses on the individual first.
This is also evident in the Western evangelical way of approaching religion in the twentieth century. According to Richard Kyle, evangelicals viewed themselves as God’s solely chosen instrument for spreading the Gospel to the world; “to most evangelicals, Christianization, Americanization, and civilization were one and the same; most evangelicals were oblivious as to how much their faith had become a religion of culture.”
This study also opened my eyes to the Americanization of Christianity, and the positive and negative effects it has on missions. At times, American Christians can seem to self-elevate themselves as God’s chosen people and lose sight of those missionaries from non-Western regions. We tend to forget the diversity of the early church mentioned in Scripture, as well as the same Spirit that also indwells these awe-inspiring non-Western missionaries. Many people also tend to neglect this simple but powerful concept in their daily lives. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” In essence, to separate the Christian life from missions is to inhibit the awesome missionary power of the Holy Spirit that indwells each one of us believers, regardless of which part of the hemisphere we inhabit. He so much desires to be granted the freedom to do as He wills in each believer’s life for the sake of carrying out the Great Commission.
1.Donald A. McGavran, “The Bridges of God,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009), 335.
2. Ibid., 337.
3. The Free Dictionary, “Americanization,” Farlex, Incorporated, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Americanization (accessed September 12, 2013).
4. Richard Kyle, Evangelicalism: An Americanized Christianity (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006), 56.
5. Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is…: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2010), 109.
6.Jason Mandryk, “The State of the Gospel,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009), 365.